Your Elevator Speech: Don’t Leave Home Without It

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You don’t activate a network simply by calling the first name on your contact list on Monday morning. First you have to develop a plan. Or more precisely, a good, solid idea of what kind of job you’re looking for and how you hope your network contacts can help.

ELEVATOR PITCH, PHOTO

How can other people, no matter how well they know you, give you advice about career paths if you have no clue about what you are looking for? Step one is putting your thoughts, no matter how undeveloped, down on paper.

This is the beginning of your “elevator speech,” a smooth, persuasive 30-second pitch describing yourself and explaining your career goals. The name is a reference to the amount of time it typically takes to ride an elevator.

The pitch is your answer to a question you’ll likely hear again and again from contacts and potential employers:

“What kind of work are you looking for?”

It’s a straightforward query, but fraught with peril. An effective elevator speech gets your foot in the door, verbally speaking. A poor speech gets it closed in your face.

A solid elevator speech presents you and your plans clearly, compellingly and, most of all, concisely. No one wants to hear a long, rambling dissertation. There is great power and persuasion in brevity.

Need proof? Consider this:

Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg in 1863 is considered one of the finest, most memorable speeches of all time. Yet it consists of fewer than 300 words and was delivered by Lincoln in less than three minutes.

By contrast, the marquee speech that day was given by a noted orator named Edward Everett, whose commentary was also originally called “the Gettysburg Address.” Everett’s oration was 13,607 words long. It took him more than two hours to deliver. No one today remembers what he said.

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Networking 101

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Here’s a word we all use a lot in the business world: Networking.

Admittedly, it’s a trendy verb that’s overused. The relevant definition of “network” is “a group of interconnected or cooperating individuals.” The best way to find a job in this economy, or any other, is by networking.

My goal is to give you solid, substantive tips on how to find, develop and manage a network of people that will lead you to the job of your dreams.

According to various studies, almost 60% of all jobs are filled as a result of some level of networking. 50% of all jobs that are filled aren’t even advertised. They are uncovered through word-of-mouth; someone telling someone else about an opportunity or about an individual they think would be perfect for a job. You need to be the person they are thinking of when they hear about an opening that is not right for them. To make that happen you have to meet lots of people and tell them the type of job you are looking for. That is networking. It’s a personal skill that needs to be learned and practiced until it becomes as natural as taking a breath. It involves reaching out to family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and most commonly, complete strangers to hear and learn about these unadvertised opportunities.

Networks have myriad uses:

  • To find job leads,
  • To discuss new directions,
  • To generate career options,
  • To problem-solve,
  • To assess transferable skills,
  • To sharpen a résumé for an interview,
  • To hook up with role models or mentors;
  • To simply receive emotional support.

But wait, you might say: “How can I network? I don’t know anybody.”

That’s nonsense. Unless you’ve spent the last 20 years on a desert island or holed up in a mountain cave, you know people. They may not be associated with your dream company, but that doesn’t matter. As you will soon learn, often someone you know knows someone else who knows someone else. Eventually, when done right, you will get to the person you need to get to.

Your network is only as good as the people you put in it or, more important, the people who can be brought into it. It’s not just quantity, but quality. Knowing 1,000 people won’t help if most of those 1,000 can’t help you. But what you will soon learn is how to finesse the people you do know to use their networks to do reconnaissance work for you. And here’s how you begin:

Finding, Developing and Managing Networks

As soon as you find out, either by your choice or someone else’s, that you will be in the job search mode (maybe you’ve heard rumors of layoffs or you’re just ready to make a move), alert every appropriate member of your networking group.

If you’re looking for a job, now is no time to be shy. Don’t hesitate to contact people you haven’t seen for some time. Remember, they haven’t been in contact with you either. Your effort to reach out may be much appreciated and welcomed. Think Facebook and LinkedIn. These are excellent methods to reconnect with lost acquaintances and both sites are easy to use.

Your job search network should be as expansive as possible. The more people you enlist, the better your chances for success.

In the employment/human resources industry, a compilation of one’s networking contacts is sometimes known as the “Christmas card” list. Typically, it’s 50 or more individuals whom you can count on for support and guidance.

You may already have such a list. If you do not, here are some suggested sources for creating one:

  • Neighbors, current and former
  • Employers, current and former
  • Co-workers, current and former
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Past teachers and professors
  • Members and clergy from your church or religious institution
  • College alumni (think about contacting your alma mater’s career center too)
  • Social acquaintances, such as exercise partners or sports teammates
  • Salespeople you’ve done business with
  • People who have provided services, such as hair stylists or mechanics
  • Fellow volunteers from charity work
  • Classmates from any grade level
  • Politicians, including local city council and school board members
  • Doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants
  • Business club members (e.g., Rotary, Lion’s Club)

I have no idea whose research resulted in this number, but the lore of career counseling says that unless you have an active “Christmas card” list of at least 89 people then you should not consider a direct sales position like insurance, financial planning or consulting. The point they want to make is that you are not a natural communicator if you don’t actively keep in touch with that many people. Regardless of the validity of this number, it is an interesting concept. After you’ve compiled potential members for your network, prioritize it while keeping in mind the attributes of a good contact:

  • The person likes you or has reasons to help you. They have a personal or professional investment in your success and well-being.
  • The person knows a wide range of people who are “plugged in.” These are connections that can be useful to you.
  • The person is savvy about the existing job market and future employment trends. Their knowledge has real currency and value.
  • The person is successful in his or her own career. This is evidence they know what they’re talking about.

Be very clear about what you are seeking from networking contacts. Be professional and appropriate. Don’t ask (or worse, insist) that people do things they may not be comfortable doing, or cannot do without extraordinary effort, or that may damage their reputations. An example might be asking them to make an introduction to the HR staff at the company where they work. They just might not feel like they know you well enough. If you sense someone is balking at any request you make, graciously pull back and try another approach.

You want your network of contacts to be a living, growing, enduring entity. You’ll need and want to be able to go back to your contacts from time to time (remember: no job is permanent; careers change, we are all temps), so long- term nurturing of these relationships is essential. Stay in touch. Keep people apprised of your job search progress and success. Send thank you notes for job leads or services rendered.

Sarah met with me for an informational interview; I was able to give her some hot leads, and good tips about how to avoid the black hole. After a nice thank you note, I never heard from her again. I wonder if she is still out there searching for a job. She is out-of-sight and there- fore out-of-mind. I would have been a great person to put on that Christmas card list.

Robert, on the other hand, stayed in touch with regular updates (every three weeks or so). I felt like I was vested in his success because he cared enough to stay in touch with me. When I thought he was straying off target, I could shoot him a quick email. When he was sounding discouraged, I could share some encouragement. Most important when he got the job of his dreams, I could congratulate him and share in his joy. Next time Robert needs my advice or input, I will be happy to hear from him. Sarah, on the other hand, not so much.

Managing a network can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t stay organized. Create a notebook or database to keep track of all of your contact names and networking activities. Document whom you spoke with, the topics discussed and the projected outcomes. Check off who (everyone) you’ve sent thank you notes to and what you discussed. Diligently file all correspondence, including notes and emails, so that you can quickly retrieve them as needed.

Any useful tips you have for developing your network?

Job Hunting Tips: Mental Attitude Matters

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Another key area to focus on when preparing for a job hunt is your mental attitude.

As I’ve said before, “Don’t dwell on the negative.” Aimless doubt and self-questioning never helps. Worrying rarely does anything constructive. Likewise with placing blame. Negativity just eats up your energy and it won’t get you any closer to your goals.

Take for example Frank, a 39-year-old computer technician, who lost his job when his company down-sized. Frank had a wife and a son in elementary school. He had a mortgage and debts. He was not unlike the vast majority of us. The aver­age American family is just three missed paychecks from homelessness.

The layoff surprised Frank. We all tend to think these things hap­pen to other people. Frank’s real problem came after he lost his job: He just couldn’t let go and move forward. He appealed to his bosses, which isn’t necessarily a bad move if you believe you have a compelling argument for reversing their decision.

But appealing is always a long shot and rarely succeeds. It didn’t work for Frank, who simply saw that co-workers had not been laid off and wondered why him and not them. It wasn’t that he wished his colleagues ill as much as it was the notion that he had been mistreated and disrespected. That wasn’t true, but Frank allowed the notion to become dogma. He thought of himself as a target and scapegoat. He was angry and self-pitying. He turned himself into something of a martyr. It corrupted his thinking and crippled his efforts to get on with his life.

Last time I saw Frank, he was still looking for work.

It’s important to remember that why you lose a job usu­ally doesn’t matter after you’ve lost it. It’s old news. Potential employers are more concerned about your future with them than about your past with another company. Bad thoughts bring bad karma. They cause you to stall and backtrack as you unconsciously undermine yourself, your plans and your ambitions.

Family and friends can help. If you’re married or in a significant relation­ship, a nurturing, encouraging partner can do wonders, psychologically and practically. Likewise with close friends who can serve as sounding boards and a support team.

Avoid friends and acquaintances who, well-meaning or not, dwell on the downside. You don’t need or want a “pity party.” Sitting around complaining or feeling sorry for yourself and your situation is self-defeating. You’ll just feel worse.

Any tips for keeping yourself positive in tough times?

How to Make Job Fairs Work for You

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Job fairs are obvious opportunities for networking, but they require thought and preparation. The fairs, which bring together many companies and potential employers under one roof, at one time, are valuable one-stop career shops.

Job fairs occur all the time, but you may have to go looking for them. Search the internet, newspapers, college career centers and employment agencies for announcements of upcoming fairs. Select those that feature companies and careers that interest you.

Here are some tips to get the most out of attending a job fair.

You must go prepared. A job fair isn’t a job interview, but it’s close. Practice introducing yourself and delivering your elevator speech. Be prepared to confidently discuss your career achievements, not your job duties, with potential employers. Being prepared allows you to make the most of your time and the recruiters’ time which they will be grateful for.

Dress as you would for a real job interview.

Bring numerous copies of your résumé. If you do well, you’ll hand out a lot of them. You will want to write up a general cover letter to attach to your résumé, a summary that clearly defines your career objectives and qualifications in relation to the relevant industry or focus of the job fair. Strong, succinct cover letters make a positive impression. In my experience, few job fair attendees take the time and effort to write and distribute these letters, so doing so will help set you apart from the masses. It shows you put more effort into preparing for the fair than hundreds of others attending. Already, you stand apart.

Keep your materials neat, organized and presentable in a handheld portfolio that allows you to easily shake hands with potential employers and take notes. Don’t forget to bring along an abundance of your business cards. Notepad, pen and your calendar are also essential, the last in case a prospective employer wants to arrange a meeting or interview on the spot.

Do some research ahead of time when you know which companies will be represented at a job fair. Check out corporate websites, keying in on any job openings of interest that are posted. Read current, relevant news. Doing so will make conversation easier and more effective with company representatives. Asking intelligent, informed questions about such topics as the company’s recent accomplishments or future plans sets you apart from the other unprepared looky-loos or tire kickers as I call them.

Be patient and polite. Chris, a friend of a friend, is a high-level executive who stood in line for two hours just to get into the room where the recruiting booths were located. This is no time to wear your ego on your sleeves. Be patient, chat with the people in front and behind you. They are in the same outrageous line so make the best of the situation. Know that they feel the same way you do and it’s just part of the cost of admission. By the way, Chris got a great lead from someone while standing in line that made it all worthwhile.

 

What follow up steps should you take after attending a job fair?

Following up with recruiters and new contacts at a job fair is more than just an afterthought. How and when you follow up leaves as much of a lasting impression on potential employers as your on-site interview or conversation does. Maybe more so since it underscores your seriousness, determination and professionalism. You are fighting to get this job.

The day after a job fair, send a cover letter expressing your interest, a fresh résumé and a personalized note of thanks to each promising corporate contact. Remind the contact of your recent job fair meeting and your relevant career qualifications. Remember they probably met hundreds of people that day so make yourself stand out if you possibly can by mentioning something unique about your conversation.

If you committed to calling an employer, do so, but leave no more than two messages. This is important. Leaving too many messages does not signify admirable persistence. If you’ve done your homework and made a good impression, a phone call or two simply punctuates a job search done well. Phone messages also give the recruiter an opportunity to test your phone etiquette and communications skills. Anything more begins to smack of desperation and becomes counterproductive.

I met with a young man named Ryan. He had a good résumé and presented himself well. Our informational interview went fine. I said I would be in touch, and I meant it.

The next day, the fellow left me a message expressing his thanks for talking with him and reiterating his eagerness to find work. The day after that, he called again—same message. And again, the next day and the day after that.

This was too much. I went from being happy to help to dreading his next, inevitable call. I wondered whether he was doing anything else to pursue his goals besides calling me. He started to feel more like a stalker than a prospective employee. And nobody hires stalkers!

Once you’ve sent your letters and thank you notes, once you’ve made your calls, be prepared to wait. Employers and human resources personnel work according to their schedules—needs and priorities that you are likely not privy to. You are not the only job seeker they are considering. Be patient. Use the time to pursue other job leads.

 

Have you found success attending job fairs? Any tips you would add?

Does Your Physical Health Matter in Your Job Search?

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For any job search to be successful, you must take care of yourself. You must exercise and eat right. You have to be at your fighting weight. Maybe in your last job you could claim that you were simply too busy to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Even if that was true, it’s not true now.

Physical activity and a good diet are essential. Between the two of them they provide the energy and stamina to conduct an effective, prolonged job search. They also boost your self-image. When you are at your proper weight, when your posture is straight, and when you are not winded climbing a set of stairs you will feel much better about yourself. Believe me, it will be noticed by others, especially HR, and it will definitely improve your job prospects. Another aspect of getting in shape is that it becomes an area of your life in which you can take control, you make it happen, and in a job search situation where you feel like absolutely nothing is in your control, it makes you feel really good.

If you already have a good exercise regimen, stick with it. Improve it, if you can. Adapt it to your new circumstances. That might mean jettisoning the expensive fitness club membership with its high-tech treadmills and elaborate weight machines. But you can still jog around the neighborhood and do calisthenics or join an inexpensive neighborhood YMCA.

If you don’t have an exercise program, create one. Don’t hesitate to ask for help in this area too. This is not the time to hurt your back and be laid up for weeks. Concentrate on sports or activities you can do while looking for a new job. When you don’t have a job, it’s probably not a good time to take up mountain climbing or golf. Just make sure the activity is enjoyable, and not merely another task for the day.

Staying in shape is important to me. Part of the reason, admittedly, is ego, but I also want to stay healthy for as long as I can. For a lot of people, jogging is the go-to activity. It’s relatively cheap: All you need is a decent pair of shoes and you can pretty much do it anywhere.

For years, I avoided running. It seemed unduly boring, monotonous and, above all, exhausting. Then one day my workout buddies and I realized that spending all of our time working out in a basement gym meant we were missing the glorious weather and sights of San Diego. So we evolved into a running group called “The Turtles.” Our motto was “Start slow, and taper off.” We don’t care about speed. We talk while we run. We laugh a lot. And before we know it, our 5K is finished and we’re back at the gym. We even got to know our local morning show weather man who does his reports from the downtown sidewalk outside of the station. We ended up getting on TV twice a week for a morning update on our run. We became celebrities. I can’t tell you how many people would stop us and say, “Aren’t you the turtles from TV?”

It’s not a workout if you’re having fun. Keep that in mind. Make sure your exercise program is enjoyable, even something you look forward to. Dreading is not allowed.

Exercise produces obvious benefits, and surprisingly quickly. First of all, it’s a great stress reducer, which is especially valuable when your stress levels are likely to be higher than normal. You’ll have more energy and you’ll look healthier. Suits will hang better; dresses will fit the way they’re supposed to. That makes you a much more attractive job candidate. It shows that you take responsibility for your health and appearance and that you work to maximize both. Active people radiate an energy and healthfulness that employers notice almost immediately. Even if we aren’t fully conscious of the reason for the glow.

“When a job applicant first walks into an interview, I immediately size them up in terms of their general appearance,” one employer told me recently, echoing a sentiment I hear often. “I look at their clothes. That’s kind of automatic. But I also—and this is kind of subconscious—consider how they carry themselves. Are they standing straight? Are they smiling, with bright teeth and eyes? Do they walk well? If someone comes in slouched, if they’re grossly overweight, disheveled or some¬thing just presents wrong, they are immediately at a disadvantage. They might have a brilliant résumé. They might be perfect for the job. But if they look or sound or smell unhealthy, if they’re weird or somehow off-putting, I can’t help but wonder: If this is how they present themselves on a day when they’re trying to impress, what will they look like six months into the job?”

You now work hard at the gym for the sake of your appearance and health. Don’t let me know you have any bad habits, such as inappropriate use of alcohol or that you smoke. You wouldn’t show up for an interview with booze breath, so don’t show up smelling of smoke. If a candidate ever smells like smoke, they are dead on arrival. Two reasons: One, they smell so bad I question their judgment just as I would if they smelled like booze and two, smoking is an addiction that I think people need to take responsibility for. Nobody can convince me it tastes good, smells good and is not bad for your health. If your judgment is flawed enough to ignore all the warning signs about smoking, then I question your judgment in lots of areas. Of course, remember I live in California. We may be a little crazy about this health thing, especially smoking. But keep in mind “I have the gold (a salary) and I make the rules.” I will not tell you that you did not get the job because of offensive odor or habits but why give me the opportunity to pass you by when it is something you can control?